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All You Have Ever Wanted to Know About the Athens Metro

BY ALEXIA AMVRAZI

The ATHENS METRO is running smoothly,  impressing locals and foreign visitors alike by its perfect organisation, cleanliness, modernity, artistic and cultural sophistication and popularity. Save for the dim witted state police guards patrolling the stations armed with heavy weaponry, the Metro has proven a great way to present a newer and greater Athens .

The arrival of the Metro was as quiet as the underground journey itself. No flashy advertising campaigns or big announcements. When I finally cornered the Metro President Mr Kikiras in his office, the reason for the silence was the first thing I asked about. "WHEN we first made our calculations for expected ridership we estimated that within six months we would have 280,000 passengers. Within the first three months we already had between 240,000-270,000 passengers," says Kikiras. "The six-month target was set because after that period, the amount becomes more regular."

So counting your eggs before they're hatched is one thing. But what else has prevented a huge, in-your-face campaign from being launched? "Such a campaign would attract a much higher number of people, and before we do that we need to materialise plans on things like the creation of more parking spaces, and new bus routes that will link with the metro," he reveals.

"Parking is something we're currently working on but the amount of people who park-and-ride will be few anyway, because each lot will only take around 1,000-1,500 cars. The new bus lanes are a far greater priority because they will be more accessible - passing nearer to people's homes - and will transport more people. The image of buses is currently a bit of a negative one. People feel that they run on unreliable schedules and they will be late. The new "feed" lines connected to the metro, however, don't pass through the centre, like the one going through Agia Paraskevi to Ethniki Amina station for example. When this line went from Agia Paraskevi into the centre and back, the delays and hassle made it unreliable. But now it's far speedier and more reliable. Private car owners don't know this yet. Their mentality is they'll be squashed and uncomfortable in buses. They don't know that the bus goes from their home to Ethniki Amina station, making life far easier now."

so when is there going to be a campaign to dispel past impressions?

"Right now we can't handle too many more passengers," says Kikiras, "because there's a problem with the existing (ISAP) line. If you attempt to take the train between 1pm and 3pm in the afternoon, it's very difficult. That's because they need newer and more compartments. Changes to the old train lines started last July and continued to a second phase in October, with the aim of gradually improving and increasing their frequency to every three minutes in peak time, and increasing their capacity to carry more passengers (there's been a 15 percent increase on the Kifissia-Piraeus line in the metros's first three months of operation) who use metro connections. It's only after ISAP has significantly raised its own passenger capacity that we can launch our own campaign to broaden our number of customers.

how does ISAP (the old train system) count any increase in passengers since the metro opened?

Panayiotis Lambos, president of ISAP, says that from the information they have on current train ridership - which is bound to fluctuate as the Attiko Metro lines continue to expand - Kifissia, Patissia and another three stations have installed mechanisms in their ticket machines which calculate the number of passengers passing through, and at which hours numbers rise and fall.


why not a 24-hr metro?

IF the metro remained open for 24 hours during the weekend, we reckon a great deal of car accidents could be avoided. But the Attiko Metro press director explains there's no chance. "The shut-down hours when our staff work on extensions and make improvements or fix things in the existing system are crucial. It's actually less than five hours that everything is switched off, if you consider the additional time needed to carry out the actual closing-down process, after the stations have been closed to the public. Thus there is no chance of us opening the stations for longer."

Efthymios Bakas adds that cost is another factor. It is "impossible to keep such an expensive network (with its ventilators, lights, escalators, power-supply etc) open just to carry 1-5,000 people." A better idea, he suggests, is entering around 10 night buses into service for such commuters to avoid drunk-driving or costly taxi fares, etc.


metro's most satisfied customer

THE PRESIDENT of Attiko Metro, Leonidas Kikiras, talks to the Athens News about his contribution in the creation of Athens ' new transportation system.

what exactly is your role in this project?

My role goes back quite a long way, to the time when research was first being carried out in the early 80s - 1982 to be precise - when I was director at ISAP. There I had the opportunity to follow the studies and pre-studies for the metro project. And consequently, from '87 on, I was involved in the promotion for materialising these studies and plans. The contract was signed in 1991 and in January '94 I returned here, to be involved with the completion of the project.

We had engineering firm Bechtel International as advisers, and they also function as project managers for the metro project. They have staff working within Attiko Metro.

do you use the metro yourself?

I do. If I need to circulate within the centre there's no doubt about it. I've found it so useful - on many occasions it has cut my journey to less than half its usual time. It's a fact that people have responded very positively to it, chiefly because it provides a very respectable environment and gets you wherever you need to go, fast and inexpensively.


the perfect master plan

ATTIKO Metro president Leonidas Kirkiras is a man with a plan. The Athens News asked him what cards the company has up its sleeve. "Our master plan will be carried out throughout the next decade, ending in 2020. In the general plan we have foreseen how all the public transportation systems - the metro, buses and the long-standing ISAP electric train system - can be properly coordinated to cover the entire area of the Attica basin."

"The extension plans (enabled through the third Community Support Framework (CSF), have been finalised by the European Committee, and reach across to the four corners of the lines we are building - the extensions to Peristeri, Aegaleo, Ilioupoli and Stavros."

The stations already up and running are: Syntagma-Ethinki Amina and Syntagma-Sepolia (lines 2&3). And the metro just delivered the Syntagma-Dafni extension last week. The Dafni line, which includes five new stops, will be particularly useful to people in the southern and eastern suburbs. In two years they plan to open the Syntagma-Monastiraki line (the company says it is "polishing the final details").

The extensions with the greatest priority are those at the four corners (mentioned above): "This is the first package in the 3rd CSF, which means the deadlines fall between 2000 and 2006," says Kikiras. "However, some of these will probably be opened a little earlier - for example, the extension to Peristeri (2003) and the extension to Stavros (2004) - so that we can link it to the Spata-Elefsina road [in time for the Olympics]". There will be a transfer station with a large parking lot, and links for buses and the railroad, which will go to the national highway.

why didn't plans include an extension to the new spata airport?

The company responds that this is an issue which is currently being researched, but what finally happens remains undecided. The current options are that the airport will be linked either by the (new) suburban train or the metro - or even both.(Both as it turns out)

"Another interesting extension," says Kikiras, is the one going along the length of Kifissias Avenue, which isn't part of the 3rd CSF package but is nonetheless very important, because it is linked to the services during the 2004 Olympic Games. We're therefore trying to complete this line earlier than planned, before the Games. We want it to be useable through a standard concession agreement with POT (Peak Operate Transfer) so that we can cover the fact that it's not part of the 3rd CSF and that there is no funding for this extension. It can be done - on time! It would be very useful as it could also link to the ISAP (metro) train lines in Maroussi.


parking facilities

ALONG the metro lines there are reportedly 6,000 parking slots (public as well as private). On the Syngrou-Fix section there will be 670 new parking spaces.

pollution check

THE ATTIKO Metro haven't yet received any official results regarding pollution, but they do claim that pollution has indeed been reduced. The metro has reportedly put 100,000 cars out of circulation, which will inevitably reduce pollution and traffic congestion problems in certain areas (not on Kifissias or Vas Sofias Avenues though).


measures for earthquake damage & fire safety

TEN "accelerometers" which measure earthquake effects had been installed along the Attiko Metro network several months before last September's earthquake, which the company states provided them with an important example of how their network responds to earthquakes. The company feels that the earthquake also confirmed that their existing design methods and building plans were efficient, and that the metro would be completely safe - in fact the safest interior space - in the case of an earthquake (up to 8-9 Richter).

fire safety

The company claims it is equipped with "all the most high-tech systems" for both detecting and extinguishing fires. All their materials and products (including wiring) are halogen-free - they give out no toxic fumes. The danger of smoke inhalation, usually what causes death in fires, can be countered by a ventilation system that absorbs fumes in the opposite direction of people heading out of the metro.


why is there no air conditioning in metro stations and trains?

"WE HAVE created a ventilation system which ensures that the temperature within the stations is lower than it is outside in summer and higher in winter," says Kikiras. "In the summer we leave the system on throughout the night. This works because the metro is completely underground - unlike the HSAP line, of which of only three kilometres of a total 26km are underground - therefore it stays cool."

Kikiras adds that the company has been carrying out research into the usefulness of having air conditioning on station platforms though not in trains. "Air conditioning systems in trains can lead to faults due to the amount of electricity required," he explains. After the particularly hot summer Athens experienced this year, Attiko Metro views the idea of air conditioning on platforms as particularly viable.

why is there no air conditioning in HSAP trains?

HSAP's Lambos says lack of time prevented the installation of air conditioning in HSAP's new trains, but that there is hope for the future. "The plans had to meet a December 1997 deadline. There wasn't time to carry out research on air conditioning before the deadline for ordering the new trains. However, with changes in technology, there's a possibility of installing air conditioning in the new trains at a later date," he says.


how well are tickets checked?

ATTIKO Metro finds that having commuters validate tickets at machines in the station before entering the train, as well as ticket inspectors on board the vehicles, is more user-friendly than the clamp system used in other countries. "Preventing someone in any way from leaving a station can be a safety hazard if the exits lock accidentally," says Bakas. "Clamps are also unsuited to the Greek freedom-based mentality." Tickets are inspected (on average) on one in every three trains, with two inspectors and two security guards passing through the entire train for a thorough check. There are numerous ticket-validating machines in addition to staffed ticket booths and ticket-dispensing machines at all stations. Will the ticket machines ever take banknotes? "Not for the time being," says Bakas. "We're waiting for the euro. If we used software for Greek banknotes, which is expensive, we'd have to change it in a year's time."


how lucrative is the metro for surrounding businesses?

FIGURES show that most businesses in the vicinity of metro stations have been affected positively, says Attiko Metro. Real estate, too, has gained in value with prices of homes going up. In addition, some areas which were previously isolated are drawing many more people because they are now accessible via train. Naturally, Athens' commercial centre has experienced the most positive response.

"People who were once sceptical about the introduction of the metro have changed their minds and realise they are not competing against it but that it's actually beneficial," says Bakas. "Take taxi drivers for example." Research shows that among those who don't drive or choose to leave their car at home, the majority opt either for the metro or a taxi. "With the existence of the metro the taxi option has become more attractive because there is less traffic. Most of those who preferred taxis in the first place will continue to use them," Bakas notes. "It's important to remember that from the moment that the vast majority of industries are affected positively by the metro, that's what matters, even if, say, one specific business suffers. But there have been absolutely no complaints or backlash."

will commercial ventures open near or inside metro stations?

Bakas says the concept has not been ruled out but that as yet there are no plans for the opening of shopping areas, for instance. "We are working with the Megaron Mousikis on creating a direct connection that will take one straight to the enormous new Megaron Village which is being built," he states.

As for commercial ventures within metro stations, Bakas says "any business that could lead to any form of pollution (food-related etc) will not be permitted".

The only station which is set to host businesses is central Syntagma Square, where around 700 sq metres have been set aside for this purpose. ATMs are to be installed - rather than banks as it is deemed these would increase the potential of robberies or terrorism - at all stations within the following year.

Sale of food and alcohol is prohibited for reasons of pollution and commuter safety, respectively, but a cafe may open at Syntagma, where passengers will be able to consume goods within the shop itself.

is the 'metrorama' newspaper published by attiko metro?

"No, we do not publish it," says Bakas. "It is distributed for free outside metro and train stations."


why no toilets at metro stations?

THE METRO has toilets but they're not open to the general public, Bakas notes. He says the metro is so fast that one can generally wait until they reach home, work, etc. Also, toilets could prove a source of pollution. "The metro is an enclosed space and needs to be kept very clean and well-aired. Toilets are also an enclosed space and could possibly attract drug users," Bakas points out. "And since they can't be supervised we will not risk it." And there are no plans to build public toilets in the future either. Bakas says that if a commuter is in a particularly difficult situation, they can go to the station-master who will escort them to a (locked) bathroom. As for providing a service in the immediate vicinity of metro stations, he says that decision lies with the Athens municipality.

See also Athens Metro

Return to Alexia's Articles

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